Mandatory Credit: Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports

Jim Bowden: Braves Still Kicking Tires on Premium Pitching


Max Scherzer, AL Cy Guy.  Mandatory Credit: Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports

 

FauxFrankWren is a consistent friend of the team – and I believe his source on this was Jim Bowden’s show on the XM MLB Radio Network channel.  But honestly, whether that assessment is correct and/or while this sounds like an exciting bit of news, it should honestly come as no real surprise to anyone:  Yes, Frank Wren makes calls all the time.  Most do not pan out in any fundamental way.  Some merely express interest in players so that his counterparts on other teams are aware that the Braves could be in the market should they opt to move someone.  Others may be total shots in the dark, hoping for a hit.  But then, just a year ago this week and after months of speculation, Wren and Kevin Towers got together quickly on a deal that sent Martin Prado (et al) to the Diamondbacks for Justin Upton and Chris Johnson.

I believe this information lies somewhere in the middle.

As an ex-General Manager, Bowden certainly knows that there are calls made that are relatively meaningless.  That’s not newsworthy.  The notion that specific teams are making calls that are pointing in a consistent direction – like frontline starting pitching - that’s newsworthy… particularly at this date.  So this tells me that the Braves are actually continuing to check in — at least — with teams about the best starting arms that may be out there… in addition to looking at the best free agent arm that is also out there.  It also suggests to me that perhaps earlier offers are being revised and renewed since there would be little point in revisiting prior conversations unless something has changed.

 

A Review of the Scenarios

So there are three pitchers mentioned.   Let’s look at each one in turn… including the one fascinating scenario that could be spun.

David Price. Mandatory Credit: Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports

DAVID PRICE.  Okay, we’ve already talked about him.  A lot.  Here’s the refresher:

  • He has 2 years of “team control” remaining.
  • His arbitration estimate is $13.1 million for 2014.  Figure around $16-17m in 2015, given a ‘normal’ year for him.
  • He has a contract clause that requires his team to pay him $4m in deferred monies from his 2013 deal, payable on October 1st.
  • That’s too rich for Tampa Bay’s druthers – and the optimum time to trade him is clearly right now… regardless of the posturing statements coming from Andrew Friedman.
  • That said, the Rays are nothing if not ‘patient’, and a trade for Price should bring the largest return of players to Tampa Bay, though their needs are not terribly clear.

Scenario:  Atlanta would have to overwhelm the Rays with bodies, given that they don’t have many “top shelf” prospects and even fewer that they would be willing to part with.  One name I keep coming back to is Joey Terdoslavich, though clearly he would be only one of many that would have to be dealt.  The Braves don’t really have the $17 million of payroll space currently available, though they are still trying to find somebody – anybody – with interest in taking some of Dan Uggla‘s salary.  The Rays would certainly have some immediate interest if the Atlanta would include #1 prospect Lucas Sims, though at this point he has been considered an ‘untouchable’.

Let’s also look at the point in going after Price.  Yes, there is the notion of having two years of control.  But then again, there’s also the possibility of trying to get him to sign for the longer term.  Price is from Murfreesboro, TN – just down the Interstate from Nashville.  While there was the famous declaration from his agent that he would not entertain the idea of a long-term deal from Seattle (originally the obvious trade candidate), he would consider such a deal from unspecified other clubs.  You’d have to think that Atlanta might be one of those, at least based on geography.

Now would Frank Wren (um, the real one) consider selling off Lucas Sims for David Price if he knew that he could get Price for 4-to-6 years instead of just 2?  Certainly he’d have to consider that, for the idea of having a more proven Major League commodity in Price would have to outweigh the risk in continuing to develop Sims over the next 2 years before he could be ML-ready.  There’s also that old mantra:  “there’s no such thing as a pitching prospect” since many (my own research suggests 60%) of even the really good prospects never become productive major leaguers.

Also this:  would Tampa Bay be willing to open an extension-talks window as part of a trade deal?  Sure they would… if they knew that could get them the kind of players back that they want.  Already it’s clear that Seattle is unwilling to part with their best prospects – the ones that everybody thought they would offer.  Now it’s a game of chicken:  does Tampa Bay make a deal soon or do they wait to learn the fate of the next guy on our list tonight (Masahiro Tanaka).  My bet is that they wait.

 

Rakuten Golden Eagles president Yozo Tachibana (right) walks through the lobby during the MLB Winter Meetings at the Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin Resort. Mandatory Credit: David Manning-USA TODAY Sports

MASAHIRO TANAKA.  (That’s not his picture at right — the guy in the black jacket is actually Tanaka’s current boss… the one screwed out of a lot of additional posting fees by his fellow team Presidents in Japan thanks to the new posting agreement).  Fred Owens wrote about this Japanese League star just a week ago.  Jeff Schafer then wrote about the workload concerns being expressed about him career thus far.  Here’s my take on what’s going on right now with Tanaka:

  • Teams are still on the prowl for him.  Strongly so.  Biggest suitors:  Seattle, Arizona, Los Angeles (both of them), the Yankees, and the Cubs.
  • Others could swoop in:  Detroit in particular, plus…. Atlanta??
  • At this point the bids are being formulated.  That ‘workload’ topic is going to be… interesting.
  • Don’t forget, his current team (Ratuken) is going to get $20 million from the winning bidder in this auction.  But it costs nothing to participate – only if you ‘win’.

Scenario:  I honestly don’t expect Atlanta to make a serious play here.  That would happen only if everyone else concerned low-balls the bids under the fear of arm failure and if the Braves decide to throw caution to the wind and swoop in for the kill.  I still expect him to get a 4-6 year deal for something around $17-20 million per year because there are so many teams bidding.  If agent Casey Close is getting a lot of ‘low-ball’ offers, though, he could opt for a 3-4 year deal to prove that his client is fully healthy and ready for the rigors of a MLB schedule of pitching every 5th day.  Nice if that plan were to actually work.  Then again, that kind of a plan didn’t work out very well for Tsuyoshi Wada and the Orioles.

If Atlanta were to get serious about this, they you’d have to look at the David Price salary numbers ($17 million total for 2014; roughly the same for 2015) and conclude that Tanaka is actually the cheaper option, given that they could hold on to all of their precious prospects.  Additionally, the team’s CEO (Terry McGuirk) has been quoted occasionally as saying that while there is a payroll guideline, this isn’t a hindrance for specific, special players (yes, that principle would apply to all three of the guys we’re talking about here).

But there is another possibility.  Let’s say that the Detroit Tigers – flush with extra cash after their off-season deals – jump in and sign Tanaka.  Now they would have excess pitching.  That may suddenly leave room for Atlanta to acquire…

 

MAX SCHERZER.  Yes, there have been rumors this off-season about his fate with Detroit, despite being the reigning AL CY Young award winner.  But Detroit actually should be motivated to consider moving him as well:

  • Only one year of control left
  • Scott Boras client, so he will undoubtedly be testing free agency
  • Given his 2013 season, it’s a definite “sell high” situation for Detroit
  • He’s about to get a big raise (from $6.7 million to perhaps $13.6 million), and this just as Detroit was clearing payroll

Scenario:  while a 1-year rental guy like Scherzer doesn’t seem to make a lot of sense, he actually could be okay… for the right price in prospects going back to Detroit.  First off, he’s going to be cheaper to pay than either Price or Tanaka, there’s no long-term commitment, and he would almost certainly be granted the dreaded Qualifying Offer at years’ end, which would get Atlanta a semi-first round draft pick in June 2015.  Despite the ‘sell high’ problem, Scherzer would not command the kind of deal that Tampa Bay wants for David Price and his two years of control.  It’s exactly for these same reasons that Detroit is rightly reluctant to trade him today, but if Tanaka were to become their property, then that could change quickly.

____________

That’s the (much) fuller explanation of what I think is being indicated by that intriguing tweet above… it could easily all be just smoke, but a lot of fires erupt from small sparks.  So maybe Frank Wren didn’t lie after all?

Stay warm on that Hot Stove, y’all:  it’s cold out there.  6 weeks to Spring Training.

 

 

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  • fireboss

    Bowden has opined off and on for the last couple of weeks that the Rays patience in this situation won’t last much longer. He also said that the Braves could get him for Sims, Bethancourt and another low level prospect and that he would do it because Heyward Freeman Medlen are gone in two years and the need is to win now. Price makes the most sense IMO but I think that Shark is still in the mix at the edges – not that he’s in that class of pitcher

    • rick staley

      Maybe Wren decides to not wait any longer on Bethancourt’s bat to get within the same zip code as his glove and does send CB, either Lucas Sims or Jason Hursch, and say maybe an Avery Moore (just an example of lower prospect) to close the deal? I’m all in for that because Price grew up watching the Braves and would love to join the same rotation as Mike Minor (ex-Vandy mate) closer to home.

      Moreover, he would probably do an extension faster than J-Hey and Freddie Freeman as well. Maybe an acquisition as such would prompt the pair to consider signing to an extension themselves seeing that the organization would be showing a commitment to the overall opportunity for success?? Price is a better pitcher than the Shark…imho. The Cubs wanted waaaaay tooo much initially for someone who hasn’t really done anything yet. Interesting read!

      • fireboss

        Shark is obviously a lower tier than Price and over priced (no pun intended), that’s never in question. I’m not sure Jason wants to extend in Atlanta, his (and F5F) refusing to talk at all last off season seems to indicate he has other goals in mind. I feel – as I wrote a few days ago- that the Braves have to go for it in the next two years and win more than a division. That could lead to changed perceptions and extensions as well. Okay maybe that’s more of a fantasy of mine but one I think is shared by more than a few.

        • http://tomahawktake.com/ carpengui

          Unfortunately not out of the question. The timing would be interesting, though: I seriously doubt that Atlanta wants to open a new stadium in the midst of what one miught call a ‘rebuilding’ year.

          • fireboss

            The way the Braves payroll lays out now and in the future they will be in perpetual rebuild mode without some kind of injection of cash to retain quality players. In the three years Heyward, Freeman, Medlen, Kimbrel, JUP, CJ are all gone unless extended. That leaves Minor, Teheran, Simba, Varvaro, Avilan and oh yea BJ of the current crew. Obviously we can’t keep all of them but it would be smart to keep the ones we can. I know the “there’s money coming off the books” scenario but in a game where everyone else is earning higher TV revenues that money is worth less each year. Something’s gotta give

  • Matt Talbert

    I’d send one of Kubitza or Salcedo for insurance for the future behind Longoria, Jason Hursh, Shae Simmons, and Avery Moore – sounds like a good package, provided Price signs an extension. He loves Atlanta and would sign I think.

    • http://tomahawktake.com/ carpengui

      FWIW – Hursh cannot be moved (by rule) until he’s been in the organization for at least a year… this coming June. Kubitza and Salcedo likely wouldn’t interest them much – not projected highly (Salcedo used to be, but his star has fallen considerably). But there are others, perhaps.

  • cothjrr24

    My opinion…
    1. Trading for Price cripples payroll…and the farm….and decreases the likelihood of any young offensive stars signing extensions. Horrible idea. 3 major whammies.
    2. Signing Tanaka cripples payroll and decreases the likelihood of any young offensive stars signing extensions. Bad idea. 2 major whammies.
    3. Trading for Scherzer cripples the farm and is going to come with a heavy price tag in trade after the Cy Young, and we couldn’t afford an extension. Only about 1.5 whammies.
    In a scenario mirroring “death by electric chair, lethal injection, or hundreds of angry raccoons”, the end result is still the same: death.
    We have a good starting staff. Top Ten
    We have a great bullpen. Maybe the best in baseball.
    We have a great defense. Maybe the best in baseball.
    We have an offense that Heyward, BJ, Justin, and Uggla all underachieved, and Simmons is likely to get better, and even factoring in all of the above, were 4th in the NL in runs in 2013.
    We have a much-improved bench.
    Leave it be and let’s get in on! Well…let’s get O’Flaherty.

    • http://www.tomahawktake.com/ Chris Headrick

      I couldn’t agree more! What he said, what he said! :)

  • Mushy Peas

    I’m sick and tired of hearing about David Price. The guy is a great pitcher, but he is also a cry-baby. How ridiculous to get upset when someone like Ortiz hits a homerun off of him. That’s all Ortiz does! The Braves don’t need a guy with that kind of thin skin…..not if they want to avoid anymore scuffles like last year. Besides, now he won’t have Mac to back him up! I applaud Wren for not giving into the pressure to “make the big trade”. I honestly think our pitching staff is pretty darn solid. They are young, they have some postseason experience under their belt, they are all pretty much healthy, and I see plenty of opportunity for them to shine. Who cares if they don’t have a “big name” like Scherzer or Kershaw or whoever. I see alot of talent there already and few more waiting in the wings and I wouldn’t trade that for anything right now.

    • http://tomahawktake.com/ carpengui

      One homer’s reaction makes him a cry-baby? Interesting – for almost every pitcher has had such a reaction from time to time. I expect that particular one was from the frustration of having an obviously bad night, adding to the fact that it didn’t matter what he threw – it was getting hit.

      In any case, it seems evident that – as we’re hearing – Wren is still kicking the tires. But he’s also obviously not jumping headlong into anything either… it would have to make good business sense.

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  • David Funk

    It might be between Price, Tanaka and Sherzer that Sherzer is the most obtainable, but Sherzer makes me nervous. I haven’t read much concern about Sherzer being a one hit wonder, before 2013, he has never put up such amazing numbers. If the price is right, then obviously the Braves should nab the guy, but that is hard to imagine happening for the 2013 AL Cy Young. Price seems like the more sure way to go, and I can’t help but wonder if Braves would include one of their young stars that is already playing at the Major League level. I know the Rays prefer prospects bellow MLB level, but maybe someone like Wood is still tempting as he isn’t even 80 innings into his big league career. Wood, Betancourt, La Stella maybe a beginning? I don’t even mind letting go of Sims, as he is still a somewhat low level prospect, but then this is not as talented a package as what the Rays wanted from Seattle. It might take more of our recently graduated MLB ready talent, and I certainly don’t want to part with Teheran.

    • fireboss

      I see Price as the most likely of the three but still a long shot. I doubt LaStella or Teheran is part of any package right now, there’s too much concern about Uggla and Teheran is due for a big year while still being inexpensive. Wood would likely be part of a package because he is major league ready. The only way I see this happening is if the Rays decide to move now and take the best fit they can find instead of waiting for the trade deadline. That has not been the way they have operated in the past but the way players are valued is changing in front of us might convince them that a change is needed. They view the markets differently than most so it’s really impossible to predict what their position is now. The Royals were desperate for an impact arm last year and paid what the Rays wanted. Price is a better arm but the market may return less unless someone else becomes desperate for some reason.